Calder Classics

Employers Agree: Intercultural Skills Valued as Highly as Technical Skills

Rebekah JunkermeierComment

Every summer, Calder Classics brings students together from all over the US, as well as the UK and China, to study language and culture in Italy. Calder Classics’ programs not only expose students to ancient history and literature, but also immerse students in Italian culture and daily life. The intercultural skills our students develop continue to serve them far into the future. Research shows that in today’s global marketplace, employers place a high premium on cultural literacy and intercultural skills, often—and this may surprise you—as much as or more than technical skills or expertise.

In a recent study designed to identify the top skills companies around the world are seeking in potential employees, the British Council asked employers worldwide (ranging from private and public companies to NGOs) to rank intercultural skills, more general soft skills, and technical skills from most to least important. Three intercultural skills outranked formal job credentials and specific expertise: “Demonstrating respect for others” (the most highly valued skill by far), “building trust,” and “working effectively in diverse teams.” “Qualifications related to the job” and “open to new ideas/ways of thinking” ranked fourth and fifth.

Why are intercultural skills so important to employers worldwide? Considerable business benefits. In the British Council study, employers reported that employees with intercultural skills are able to work with diverse colleagues and keep teams running efficiently, build trust with clients, and bring in new clients. Private sector employers in particular identify bringing in new clients, building trust and relationships with new clients, and reputation-building as the most positive business benefits of employees possessing intercultural skills.

Conversely, employers also see significant risk to their organizations when employees lack intercultural skills. About one-third of employers identified miscommunication and conflict within teams as their top organizational risks. More than a quarter of the companies surveyed identified a loss of clients and damage to brand and reputation as their top organizational risks.

How can students gain intercultural skills? Studying abroad is one effective way to develop the cultural literacy sought after by employers around the world. Students develop skills and gain experiences a typical classroom setting will never provide: they gain the ability to assess situations, identify challenges, and solve real world problems with a diverse group of students while navigating a brand new culture. They challenge themselves, going beyond the surface-level differences between cultures, and taking a look at the world from another country’s perspective. They consider new ideas and gain the global perspective needed to effectively work with others from a variety of backgrounds. 

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